The Talmud or Schaff’s Fathers Set

One similarity–at least on the surface level–that I noticed in traditionalist communions, over against Scripture alone communions, was that the “Fathers” often became a hermeneutical matrix through which the Scriptures were interpreted, or so it seemed and so it was argued.

Both traditions–ancient Christianity and Judaism–say that an outsider simply can’t read the texts on his or her own and from his reading deduce what the community may or may not believe–and that is a legitimate hermeneutical point.

That said, how is traditional Christianity with its emphasis on Tradition and the Fathers able to escape the criticism made by Christ against the Pharisees? Here is where I think the similarities end.  Keep in mind that the community has a right to interpret its text* (which is its story).

  • At the time of the Pharisees, as I understand it, the claim was not made that the Talmudic community had received “the faith once delivered to all the saints.”  The relevance is the two communities–the Fathers and the Talmud–are not starting at the same place.
  • The ancient Christian does not see his text as an absolute deposit from which all future religious principles may be drawn.  The patrum consensus is not sola scriptura.   This is obviously true because the early Christian did not have a New Testament, so the “sola texta” mentality is foreign to him (this is why the idea of a “New Testament Canon” and sola scriptura is radically foreign to, ironically, the New Testament).
  • While in practice certain groups in the Church often act like the Fathers rank higher than the Scriptures, at least in theory this is firmly rejected.  However glorious and majestic St Gregory the Theologian is, he is not St John the Theologian.  The Talmudic mentality, on the other hand, says the opposite.

This doesn’t exhaust the discussion, and there are a few areas than need to be fleshed out:  for example, how is the Patrum Consensus actually determined?

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